Universities, Transit Partner to Share Strengths

Posted on August 17, 2012 by By Nicole Schlosser

Page 2 of 3

Shifting the focus from governance structure to service helped Lawrence, Kan.-based Kansas University and Lawrence Transit System offer transit benefits to the entire community.
Shifting the focus from governance structure to service helped Lawrence, Kan.-based Kansas University and Lawrence Transit System offer transit benefits to the entire community.

The group’s first and most important task was to create a joint transit guide. “That is the core of what we did when we started,” Nugent says.

“We had to discuss things together, like, what’s our lost and found policy? How do we do service alerts? How are we going to put fares together? We started thinking together, not just providing service together.”

The university also changed their contractor to the city’s (SMV Transportation), so that their contract time frames would coincide and they would have a common contractor to help with coordination.
Bourne, who consulted with the city and KU, recommended a shared route. Route 11 combined two city and two university routes that were in the same corridor. The new route runs more often and more days per year. It features the strengths of the city — running service six days a week — and that of the university — capacity.

“We had to double the number of vehicles on Route 11 because the ridership overwhelmed us,” Nugent recalls. “Prior to coordinating, we had two different buses. Students didn’t know that they could ride the city service and people in the community didn’t know they could ride the university service. [Now], no matter whether the university’s in session or not, people can get where they need to go.”

KU and Lawrence also combined more service to provide 16 routes, six days a week, 14 hours a day, all year.

University students can ride for free if they show their ID, except for students being picked up on campus; they don’t need to show their ID. Students pre-pay a fee for transit services as part of their tuition, which brings in about $3.3 million a year. That funds a significant portion of KU’s service, and about $1.5 million per year comes from parking revenues. The city receives about $1.5 million in federal 5307 and about $2 million in local funds.

Since the city had carrying capacity that was going unused, KU putting more people on Lawrence buses without fare wasn’t costing them anything. KU simply collects fares from non-university riders and gives them to the city.

The biggest benefit to the community, Nugent says, is a system that’s easy to use and open to anyone. “If people in our community see a bus now, they get on it. They don’t care if it’s a city or a university bus. They generally know where the route’s going.”

The route has also allowed Lawrence and KU to be more efficient.
“We haven’t reduced service hours,” Kaiser says. “It’s allowed us to do more with the same amount. We’ve improved the service so much that it nets us hours that we can put elsewhere.”

Kaiser stresses that the collaboration’s success depended on focusing on the service, not the organizational structure.

“That may have been one of the most important realizations we came to. Don’t worry about who’s paying for what, whose board is making the decision,” he adds. “It will evolve into what it needs to be. Boards need to make decisions and approve things, but that can’t be what drives the system. The system has to be driven by the service needs.”

KU and the City of Lawrence also created a new transit facility together. “We were sharing a space that, working together, was too small to meet our needs,” Kaiser explains.

The university built the facility and leased the space to the city. The center houses the administrative offices of MV Transportation staff; training, break and dispatch rooms; and maintenance space that can easily accommodate six transit buses. It includes a fueling station for diesel and gasoline.

“We’re able to allocate the costs that need to be shared and keep track of everything else [more efficiently],” Kaiser says.
Lawrence and KU are starting their second coordinated route this fall. The university will fund two new buses and the city will pay for one.

Team to cut costs
The city of Missoula, Mont. also shares a common route with the local university, allowing people to get on the first bus that shows up. In addition, the system initiates students into careers in transit.

Despite running several shuttles, two bus routes and late night service, and providing 444,994 rides in 2011, the University of Montana (UM) is able to offer a transit system “on the inexpensive side,” as Nancy Wilson, director, Associated Students of the University of Montana Office of Transportation University Center, puts it, with help from an eight-member student board guiding its million-dollar budget and an alliance with Mountain Line, the City of Missoula’s transit system.

While most university transit systems are run by the university’s parking offices, UM’s transit system is run by the Associated Students of Montana (ASUM). It is completely run on a student fee, and owned and operated by the student government.

ASUM started running a Park-N-Ride when Mountain Line couldn’t dedicate specific region-wide funds to support university need.

“We knew we needed additional transit service on campus. We thought it was going to be a small affair,” Wilson says. “It’s turned out to be larger than anybody [thought]. We have nine buses and carried about a half million people in nine months.”

Because ASUM and Mountain Line combined their ridership numbers, the City of Missoula received STIC grant funding. Since UM’s ridership numbers helped, Mountain Line reduced the cost for UM to provide free rides for students, faculty and staff.

“We work together, making sure we meet demand and generate the funds we can to increase service in the Missoula area, which we all hope will be the outcome of the extra funding,” Wilson says.

“It’s unusual, but it’s a great relationship,” she adds. “Our student drivers end up paying for their education with their commercial driver’s license. Many of our board members move on to the transit world.”

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